An exhilarating opening weekend to the 2017 Six Nations saw Scotland, England and Wales make winning starts to their respective campaigns, with lots of huge talking points across three excellent games.
Scotland v Ireland was certainly a fitting opener to this year’s tournament. The Scots roared into a 21-8 half-time lead, Stuart Hogg providing two superbly worked touchdowns, and offering a timely reminder of his talents to the British and Irish Lions selectors. Ireland looked very strong in the second half, but had left themselves far too much to do, and a typically strong defensive effort from the tenacious Grey brothers, along with two sweetly struck Greig Laidlaw penalties, allowed the Scots to keep their noses in front, and record a famous Murrayfield victory. This is only the second time Scotland have won their opening Six Nations game, and they truly did it in style, against an Ireland team many are fancying for this year’s title.
England v France at Twickenham was a gruelling affair, and although England emerged as winners, the team, along with outspoken Head Coach Eddie Jones, will want a far more fluid and efficient performance when England visit Cardiff on Saturday. England, currently ranked second in the world, seemed a shadow of the team that swept aside virtually every opponent they faced in 2016. Excellent use of the substitutions bench proved the difference in the end: a stubborn and rejuvenated French team, looking extremely dangerous, eventually beaten when replacement centre Ben Te’o crossed the whitewash on seventy minutes to save the hosts’ bacon. England have now set a new record for their number of consecutive test victories – fifteen – and, to have done so while playing well below-par at times is a credit to the team, and perhaps an indication of the strength and depth of this crop of players.
Wales faced Italy in Rome on Sunday in the final game of round one. Lots of pundits saw this as a potential “banana skin” of a fixture for Wales, and a low-scoring first half saw Italy deservedly nudge ahead through an Eduardo Gori try. Wales seemed to flounder before the break, showing no signs of scoring any tries of their own, and indeed made no clean line-breaks in the first period. The second half saw the defensive structures of both teams unravel, and Wales gradually began to show a bit more intent and ambition, eventually scoring three unanswered tries (and narrowly missing out on a fourth, bonus-point score in the dying moments of the game). A blistering George North run, which saw the Northampton wing score under the posts from 70 metres, was one of the highlights, although he looked to be struggling with a leg injury which could yet rule him out of the England clash on Saturday.
Also an injury doubt for that game is Dan Biggar who injured his ribs during the game, and was replaced by the superb Sam Davies who, in honesty, had a massive impact on the game. His style of play, which often sees him stand flat on the gain line, allows for a great offloading position mid-field while also drawing in defenders and creating gaps out wide. He also has a fine kicking game, which could be a potent weapon should he feature against England next weekend.